by Carlos Stafford, The Model Critic
Music heals, music pierces language, crosses cultural frontiers, and reveals the heart of universalities; like poetry, it builds bridges, like dance, it goes deep within and adds light. In Voice of Asia, the Astana Opera Symphony Orchestra clearly brought all this home with their impassioned performance at Carnegie Hall.
Hailing from the North of Kazakhstan, the massive group of 144 members filled the hall with magnificent sound, including Kazakh folk songs, delivered in traditional costumes, to offerings from honored modern and canonized composers.
Being their first visit on American soil, we already look forward to their return.
To a filled house, the company offered New York a treat of outstanding musicianship, powerful energy and thrilling song. Crisp and confident, with high professionalism, the newly minted opera company made Kazakhstan proud. Obviously, if anything can bring the world closer, cross borders, and unify people in a galvanizing moment in time, musical exchange is a likely method.
A case in point would be their offering of Violin Concert in D major by Tchaikovsky.
Performed wonderfully by Erzhan Kulibaev on a Stadivarius Rode made in 1722 (if that instrument could only speak!), played with virtuosic elegance producing rich tones and fluid passages to stunning effect. From speed to delicacy, from attack to control, Mr. Kulibaev’s consummate delivery was nothing short of remarkable. He was ably lead by Conductor Abzal Mukhitdinov, and the equally superb, responsive orchestra.
Sundet Baygzhin also delivered a great performance with his rich baritone voice in Largo al factorum, from The Barber of Seville. Marching onto the stage Baygzhin immediately captured the fun, fanciful, and difficult aria with total confidence and control– relaxed as a walk in the park. His well-placed voice boomed through the hall and thoroughly delighted the audience.
A reference point for me for this performance was attending Valentina Kozlova’s International Ballet Competition earlier this year in New York. At the end of that three day event, a Kazakh couple, replete with talent, had medaled in the grueling ordeal which required a certain high quality of spirit and training to impress the watchful eyes of the distinguished panel of judges. I was then introduced to Kazakh talent.
For the most part, the most impressive and awe-inspiring performance, amongst many during the evening, was the choir and symphony’s offering of Borodin’s Polovtisian Dances from the opera, Prince Igor. Already seen various times this last season at the Met, prepared me for the wall of sound and beauty of this singular piece. I can’t think of any other choral piece to compare with this exotic composition for its power and romance. The singers were remarkable, and created an emotional and transporting experience.
On the lighter side, Glitter and Be Gay, (Bernstein) sung by Alfiya Karimova charmed, and Elijah Rock performed a capella by a dancing choir added another kind of soul. Offenbach’s Belle Nuit Barcarolle from The Tales of Hoffman, sung with cloud-like sweetness and delicacy, was masterfully delivered by soprano Aigul Niyazova and mezzo-soprano Dina Khamzina
Highlighting the opening of the program was a perfect introduction for all the delightful surprises that followed–the intense and bold piece that shook the hall was Rakhmadiev’s Qudasha Duman (Celebration) that captured feelings of vast wilderness, of flying horsemen, of mythic freedom. We were reminded this is Central Asia after all! The piece opened the senses, was breathtaking, and combined perfectly with a quiet folklore piece performed later in the program, Tugan zher (Motherland) played on the traditional dombyra by Ruslan Baimurzin, that conveyed longing, and a palpable forlorn loneliness.
THE ASTANA OPERA SYMPHONY ORCHESTRACHAMBER CHOIR MEDET CHOTABAYEV, Tenor AIGUL NIYAZOVA, Soprano DINA KHAMZINA, Mezzo-Soprano ZHUPAR GABDULLINA, Soprano SUNDET BAYGOZHIN, Baritone ALFIYA KARIMOVA, Soprano ERZHAN KULIBAEV, Violin RUSLAN BAIMURZIN, Dombyra GULZHAN MUSTAKHIM, Kobyz ABZAL MUKHITDINOV, Conductor
Performed on Monday Evening, October 27th, 2014
Photo (above) by Carla Nur